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Photo: Alexandra Cabral
Photo: Alexandra Cabral

Twin Shadow Falls into Focus with New Album, Tour

Twin Shadow’s latest tour, which aims to bring attention to the release of their new album Caer, kicked off on March 23 and includes dates with Alt-J and Beck. The creative force behind the band, George Lewis Jr., says he looks forward to what will be something of an East Coast homecoming at their U Street Music Hall show this Friday.

“We love DC, we always have great shows there,” he says. “We’re all east coast people – we’ve got a California boy in the band now – but [bandmate Wynne Bennett] and I both like to spend a lot of time on the east coast so we’re really excited about coming back there because it feels like home.”

As for the tour itself, a new era is approaching for Twin Shadow. The spotlight is set on the magnificent new music and serves as a showcase of Lewis Jr. and his band’s talent.

“This tour is really about just getting back to the music,” he says. “There’s not a big production behind the set. We just want to play music for people. The set up with the new band sounds amazing and it’s really just going to be that.”

A lot has changed for Lewis Jr. since he released his last record in 2015. He and his band were forced to stop performing after their tour bus crashed into a tractor-trailer near Denver. Thankfully, no involved parties suffered major injuries, but Lewis Jr. and his band took time to reflect and grow while off the road, both personally and politically. He speaks of the global themes that anchor this new record.

“This is the first time I really feel like people are actually looking at the world like ‘oh man, this might be it, this might be kind of the last round in humanity,’” Lewis Jr. says. “The idea of what being human [means] is changing because of computers and I think everything is being questioned. Everything is flipped on its head. And artists are making art at a time when that’s happening, and regardless of political themes, it’s hard to not make art that has a feeling of ‘oh this might be our downfall, this might be the end or this might be the beginning of a new version of who we are as human beings.’ It’s where the emotional bed of the record is.”

While dealing with the changing ways of the world, Lewis Jr. also weaves a thread between other works of his, adding to an impressive catalog that will now span four full-length records. “I would say [Caer] is more of a progression from Eclipse and it kind of goes back to some of the musical ideas on my first record, Forget,” he notes.

Caer also includes collaborations with HAIM, the vivacious alt-rock trio consisting of three sisters who released their sophomore album Something to Tell You late last year. Lewis Jr. says after he and the members of HAIM became good friends, they eventually guided him during his creation of Caer.

“I had originally sent Danielle from HAIM ‘Saturdays’ when I wrote it, because I wrote it thinking about them,” Lewis Jr. says. “They ended up going in and working on it and that was really exciting because I just think they’re the best.”

The title of the album comes from the Spanish verb caer, meaning “to fall.” While the Lewis Jr. moves forward into a new phase of his life, he’s certainly had many things both good and bad fall into place on this record, leading to his triumphant return to stage this month.

Twin Shadow play U Street Music Hall with Yuno on Friday April 27. Doors 7 p.m. Show 7 p.m. The new album “Caer” is also available this day. Tickets $30 here.  All ages.

U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; 202-588-1889; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Photo: Holly Andres
Photo: Holly Andres

The Decemberists Experiment Sonically on I’ll Be Your Girl

The Decemberists are often both revered and pigeonholed as the founders of the modern folk movement – they’ve been playing accordions and wearing suspenders onstage since before it was cool (and commonplace to see) – and plenty a remark has been made about frontman Colin Meloy’s propensity to weave actual folklore into his narrative songwriting.

As bassist Nate Query astutely noted in a recent interview with On Tap, “I think early on, we were defined by the ways we were different from most bands – by having accordion and upright bass and folk instruments and songs with four-syllable words and stuff.”

But if you’ve ever seen the band live or spent a good chunk of time digging into their discography, you know that their skill, talent and creativity extends across any genre-lization. With eight full studio albums, several EPs, and a handful of collaborations and side projects under their belts, The Decemberists have proved that they are a musical force to be reckoned with – with some theatrics thrown in for fun.

The band released their latest album, I’ll Be Your Girl, this March and have embarked on the Your Girl/Your Ghost 2018 World Tour to support it. Many critics are hailing the album as a radical departure from the band’s traditional style and sound, aka the long ballads, operatics and epic poetry-type rock music we’ve become accustomed to receiving over the years.

Certainly, many of the tracks incorporate synths and techtronics, evoking a sort of 1980s video game-style, “analog” alternate reality, and producer John Congleton encouraged pushing toward the less expected choices. But it’s not as if The Decemberists of “The Upside Down” came through a wormhole to create I’ll Be Your Girl. Instead, the album simply crochets together multiple elements the band has used in the past and brings some of the less exaggerated ones to the forefront. After all, even in the most synth-heavy track, Meloy is still singing about a “cutting stone.”

“This record probably is full of some surprises for people, but really, even with this record where we branched out a little bit sonically, I don’t think we did anything we hadn’t already done,” Query says.

And yet, he adds, there is a definite art to staying both interesting and interested in making music together when you’ve been doing it as long as The Decemberists have been.

“When you’re mixing a new record, sometimes you end up building in certain challenges and parameters just to sort of make it interesting. Sometimes, you just pick up a different instrument because if it sounds different to you, [then] you’re going to get fresh ideas or sometimes, you just need to mix things up to keep it going. And I think [on] this record in particular, we tried to do a lot of that and really not be afraid to follow a weird idea down the rabbit hole.”

What is perhaps a more notable divergence from The Decemberists’ norm is the album’s obvious reflection of the zeitgeist. Rather than conjuring whimsical tales of old and allegorical references (though you’ll still find plenty of darlings and rivers and thistle in there), Colin Meloy and the band have been very vocal about how current events and the sociopolitical landscape in America influenced the making of this album.

In fact, Meloy recently described the sensation of moving from despair to humor in an interview with The Atlantic: “We’re having a very shared experience. It’s almost galvanizing, people coming out of the woodwork and saying, ‘Sh-t is f–ked up.’ There’s something therapeutic in looking at the apocalypse and laughing.”

“Everything is Awful,” for example, sounds ironically like The Lego Movie movie song “Everything is Awesome,” but with an obvious dark twist. In “Starwatcher,” an odd and ominous military-style percussion takes hold. And finally, “We All Die Young” has a trippy “Yellow Submarine” sensation with the added discomfort of having the voices of actual children on the track. And even Carson Ellis’s album artwork and accompanying short animations aren’t shy about being provocative – among other images, we see a cartoon version of Donald Trump with devil horns.

So while I’ll Be Your Girl may not be the radical sonic upheaval some have claimed, it does reiterate that The Decemberists are no amateurs. They are a skilled and experienced band influenced by both an awareness of the world around them, the lives that they lead alongside their musical ones and how all of those things are intertwined.

Query, for instance, was phoning from his son’s school where he was volunteering for the day. And while excited for the Your Girl/Your Ghost tour to bring “new stuff onstage, new things on [his] pedal board, new basses and ramping it back up after some down time this winter,” he says the band is equally excited for the opportunity to travel the country to visit spots like Red Rocks, Wrigley Field, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture – a chance to see the people and places that really are America.

Don’t miss The Decemberists at The Anthem on April 21. Tennis will open. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and tickets start at $45. Learn more about the band at www.decemberists.com.

The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.anthemdc.com